An Exclusive Interview With Felecia Epps, Dean & Professor of Law At University Of North Texas At Dallas.
Felecia Epps joined UNT Dallas College of Law as Dean and Professor of Law effective July 1, 2018. Epps served as Professor of Law at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Law from January 2016 to May 2018 and as Dean of the FAMU College of Law from January 2016 to May 2017.
In 1980 Dean Epps received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska in 1983 she attended The Basic School in Quantico Virginia followed by Naval Justice School (NJS) in Newport Rhode Island. Epps graduated with honors from NJS and was certified as a Judge Advocate in the United States Navy. She served 10 years on active duty holding a variety of positions including Defense Counsel, Trial Counsel, Chief Military Justice Officer, Chief Civil Law Officer and Chief Legal Assistance Officer. Epps was awarded the Naval Achievement Medal and the Navy Commendation Medal while on active duty.
Dean Epps left the USMC in 1992 having attained the rank of Major. She continued serving the community by working for Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) as the managing attorney of its Albany, Georgia Office. As managing attorney Epps supervised the efforts of attorneys and administrative staff in providing free legal services to low income people in 19 counties in Southwest Georgia.
Q: When did you realize you would rather teach instead of practice at a law firm?
FE: I practiced law for 16 years before entering law teaching. My last job prior to entering law teaching was as a legal aid attorney with Georgia Legal Services Program in Albany, Georgia. Legal services programs provide free legal assistance to low-income people.
I am from Lonoke, Arkansas and when a temporary position came up to teach legal clinic at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, right outside my hometown, I applied and was subsequently hired. Legal clinic required me to supervise law students who represented low income clients as part of a law school program. My contract was a one-year assignment and I planned to return to practicing law full-time once my contract ended. I enjoyed the work, so I decided to apply for a tenure-track position when one opened. After I earned tenure, I was promoted to full professor and ultimately became the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Arkansas William H. Bowen School of Law.
I decided to stay with full-time teaching because I enjoyed it. I have been in the academy since 1999.
Q: Share with us some of the topics you’ve written about.
FE: I wrote about the Constitutional problems with government attempts to limit the number of children that people bring into the world. My interest in this topic started when I was with Georgia Legal Services Program and encountered a client who was unable to pay child support. His sole income was needs based public assistance as the result of a disability (SS!). Under federal law, this income could not be garnished. The law seemed, in my opinion, to prohibit any order that he pay child support. The court held the client in contempt and put him in jail for 30 days, every year, because he could not pay. Years later, I researched this issue in depth and concluded that people receiving needs based public assistance (SSI) could not constitutionally be required to pay child support. To me that raised a question as to who would support the children and whether the government could prevent people from having children that they could not support. My conclusion ... it’s a problem!
Q Can you share with our audience about your service as Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
FE: I served on active duty as an officer of Marines for 10 years. Although I was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant, I never actually served on active duty at that rank. I began my active duty service as a 1st lieutenant and ended as a Major. During my time on active duty, I served as a defense council and a prosecutor in military trials. I also served as a Civil Law Officer and a Legal Services Officer. All Marines are basic warriors, so I attended Amphibious Warfare School and learned how to act as an Operations Officer for an Infantry Battalion.
Q: Tell us some of the topics you’re asked to speak on.
FE: Since becoming a Dean in 2015, my major topic has been leadership. I love to share wisdom passed on to me by my parents who were great community leaders and servants.
As Dean of the UNTD College of Law I am often asked to speak about our school and university.
Prior to becoming a Dean, I talked mostly about my scholarship. My focus is described above.
Q: What are some of your responsibilities in role as Dean at UNT of Dallas?
FE: In my Dean capacity, I am the senior administer for the College of Law. My duties include supervising faculty, staff, and students. I must ensure that we comply with ABA accreditation standards and that everything is in place for the academic program.
I also promote my faculty and students to external communities.
I am the chief law school cheerleader!
Q: How many years does it take to become a Professor? Can you share the process you went through?
FE: My journey took 16 years. Some people know they want to become law professors when they graduate from law school. In such cases it could take as little as 4 years. Others take longer when they practice law before shifting their career focus to teaching.
Q: Which courses of law do you teach?
FE: Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Death Penalty Law, Sentencing, Trail Advocacy, Interviewing and Counseling.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your career as a Law Professor?
FE: Teaching and working with students.
Q: Why did you decide to go into law?
FE: I wanted to help people improve their lives.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career as an Attorney?
FE: Go for it! Remember that the only place you find success before work is in the dictionary. Be prepared to work hard. Consider why you want to become an attorney and always remember the reason that led you to that path.
Q: Were there moments in your career that were pivotal to getting where you are today?
FE: When I made the decision to leave active duty in the USMC and pursue a career as a civilian attorney.
Q: What expectations did you have after graduating and receiving your law degree?
FE: At that time, I was already committed to the USMC. I was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant when I graduated from college although I went to law school from college rather than to active duty. I expected to serve 3 years. I liked being a Marine so 3 years turned into 10 years.
Q: What are the best practices you have employed to build a successful career?
FE: Be humble and willing to change and grow.
Q: What has been the most interesting legal issue you’ve dealt with in your legal career?
FE: As a defense council I represented a Marine charged with homicide as a result of a Russian roulette game. Another Marine engaged in the game put a gun to his own head and pulled the trigger. The gun was not supposed to fire – but it did. The issue was whether my client, could be held responsible for the death of his fellow Marine even though the fellow Marine voluntarily put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger. My client was found guilty of manslaughter.
Q: What is it about your job that most excites you?
FE: It excites me to see students graduate and become successful attorneys. I love graduation ceremonies!
Q: What's your advice for women in male-dominated fields?
FE: Be competent and confident.
Q: What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get where you are today?
FE: Fear of impromptu public speaking. Just do it!
Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments your career?
FE: A client that I represented as a defense counsel when I was on active duty was acquitted. He was charged with using drugs. This was discovered by a urinalysis test administered when he reported to a new duty station. He was a stellar Marine with impeccable character. The jury decided to acquit him. They accepted his word as a Marine, rejecting the test results.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
FE: Always be grateful and remember the people who helped you to succeed.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
FE: Michelle Obama. I read her autobiography and connected with her personal story. She came from a humble background and has not forgotten her roots. She is committed to making the lives of others better.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
FE: The biggest challenge is earning equal pay for equal work. In addition, there are still men who chose to do inappropriate things to women that they work with or around. As I write this the news is reporting about an investigation conducted in New York regarding the governor. Woman must be courageous and speak up when this behavior occurs.
Q: After high school, where did you feel your career path would take you?
FE: I knew that I wanted to attend law school. That’s all at that point.
Q: What would be the title of your autobiography?
FE: My Romans 8:28 Story – God works all things together for GOOD!
13 Things About Felecia Epps
1. If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?
Barrack Obama, Michelle Obama, Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
2. What's your favorite family tradition?
Christmas Day dinner with my family with a Christmas speech from my father.
3. What celebrity would you like to meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee?
4. What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
5. Who is the most fascinating person you’ve ever met?
Lillie Mae Turner (my mother)
6. What was the last book you really got into?
Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better
7. Among your friends, what are you best known for?
Being very quiet.
8. Who is your favorite author?
9. What TV shows did you watch when you were a kid?
The Brady Bunch.
10. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
11. What would your perfect vacation look like?
A week or more at a resort on the beach that has a full service spa.
12. Favorite Dessert?
Key Lime pie.
13. Favorite City?
Hilton Head Island